The start of the Atlantic hurricane season may be two months away, but forecasters are already thinking ahead -- and based on reports thus far, 2008 is expected to be "very active." Dr. William Gray, a longtime weather researcher and the Nostradamus of hurricane prophets, released his 2008 forecast this week, calling for "more storms than usual" during the annual period of June 1 through November 30.
Wait a minute: Didn't we hear this last year? Yes, we did -- from early reports and from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's yearly outlook. The same promise of impending gloom was delivered in the months leading up to the 2006 season, too.
However, the number and severity of expected hurricanes fell short both years, prompting forecasters to revise their predictions mid-season -- and probably instilling premature trepidation in even the most stalwart cruisers, still reeling from 2005 (the most active season on record).
Dr. Gray has a decent track record; according to the Houston Chronicle, his reports have been accurate 85 percent of the time since 1995. But that really doesn't mean beans when you consider the fact that the Atlantic entered a very active period in 1995, and that Dr. Gray has predicted an active season every single year since then.
Hmm, we'd bet the odds in his favor are better there than in a shipboard casino. Still, when he's wrong, he's wrong. In 2005, he predicted 13 named storms (there were 26); in 2006, he predicted 17 (there were 9).
NOAA has also been criticized for trumpeting forecasts that have proven false. Its 2008 forecast is due out on or about May 22, according to a spokesman there.
The bottom line? Let's face it: There's no such thing as total accuracy when it comes to comprehending Mother Nature. Don't let this prophecy deter you from considering a cruise during hurricane season.
Even during a "normal" or "above normal" season, the chances of your particular voyage being affected by a storm are slim -- and, if you're willing to take the risk, you'll likely score a great deal. On the other hand, if you can't risk a cruise gone awry because of a storm in its path or a port that's closed, you should not book during hurricane season in the Caribbean and in the Pacific.
Cruise Critic's Hurricane Zone will be back again this year offering up-to-the-minute itinerary changes, port closures and weather advisories. In the meantime, get geared up for the season with these useful features on travel insurance and hurricane season cruising.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor